Stella directs me to take the next right, and in seconds I find myself turning onto the street Jules lives on. I pull in beside a white SUV parked in the driveway of a beautiful two-story house, the huge wraparound porch stained a deep cherry color.
“Damn, being a top realtor must have its perks, huh?” I joke, and Stella laughs.
“He had it built a few years ago. Designed it himself with Jules in mind.”
“My bedroom is the best room in the whole house,” she tells me from the back seat, and with that, I kill the engine and climb from the car, running around the hood to let the girls out.
I’m closing the passenger door when the front door of the house opens and Mason steps out onto the porch. Jules goes running to him, and he swings her up into a hug, laughing at whatever she’s telling him.
“They’re close, huh?” I ask softly.
“He’s the best dad ever.” Stella links our hands together, and I follow her onto the porch.
Mason smiles at her. “Thanks for taking her, Stell. I appreciate it.”
“Not a big deal, Mase. We enjoyed having her along.”
Mason is my height, with the same color eyes as Stella. They look like they could be twins, even though he’s older than her.
I reach my hand out, and he takes it in a firm shake, a smile on his face.
“Mason Cole. Great to meet you, man. And thank you for helping watch my girl tonight.”
“Jace Miller, and it was my pleasure. That’s one spunky little ball of energy you got there,” I tell him, reaching out to ruffle Jules’s hair.
She laughs and hugs both Stella and me.
“I had fun tonight. Can we do it again soon?” she asks.
“You got it, sweetie,” Stella says, giving her a big kiss before Jules waves and runs back inside.
“Teeth and pajamas, baby!” Mason shouts to her, and then he turns back to us, gesturing to the chairs on the porch.
Stella looks at me and I nod before taking a seat next to her, Mason sitting down across from us.
“Did she behave okay tonight?” he asks.
“Mase, I can handle my girl just fine,” Stella jokes, and he laughs, running a hand down his face.
“Oh, I have no doubts, little sister. I also know my daughter, and she’s a damn handful on even the easiest days, so I have to ask.”
“She got a hole in one and took about ten minutes choosing between ice cream flavors before finally settling,” I say, the reminder of her choice still grossing me out.
“What’d she pick?”
“A scoop of cotton candy and a scoop of bubblegum.”
Mason pretends to hurl, and we all crack up, knowing nobody will ever understand a child’s taste for the grossest flavors of ice cream.
“Everything get squared away at work?” Stella asks him, leaning against me. We’re sharing a bench seat, and I’ve tried to be respectful of her brother and keep somewhat of a distance, but the second I feel her against me, I give in and wrap my arm around her.
“It’s a mess, Stella. A couple of the other realtors were there too. Our boss told me it was missing papers for the closing—yeah, not even close. We hired this new guy a couple months ago, and he’s a disaster, no offense to him. He walked into a closing last night without any of the documents needed, assuming the new buyers would have them. I went in, and our other coworker Tammy was there too to help him get his head out of his ass. Kid got his realtors license and thought it was just for fun and games, showing houses and making big-ass commissions.”
“Well, shit,” Stella mumbles, shaking her head.
“So needless to say, he no longer works for us, and now I’m the one who will close it out tomorrow.”
“And you’ll rock it like always.” Stella smiles at him.
“I felt so bad, I told them this was on the house, that I wasn’t gonna take a commission for it, and that seemed to help, but still. I feel terrible. The new owners had all their stuff in a U-Haul ready to move in overnight, and now they’re stuck at a hotel until we go back in the morning.”
Stella reaches across to squeeze his hand. “Don’t. It was that guy’s fault for not doing his job properly.”
Mason smiles and then turns to me. “So Stella says you’re a cop?”
Nodding, I lean back in the chair and stretch my legs out. “Yep, thirteen years on the force. Just got a new partner when my best friend moved up to detective.”
“Are you planning to do the same?”
“Nah, that’s not for me. I like being a beat cop.”
“He’s really good at it too,” Stella chimes in, and I smile at her, her words making me swell in pride. I’ve never felt that being a police officer was a job to brag about. I simply love what I do and I’m proud of it.
“Thanks,” I murmur to her, and in response, she rubs her hand up and down my arm.
Jules comes running outside in a long pink nightgown, throwing herself on Mason’s lap. “Dad, I can’t get the nightlight to turn on.”
“Crap. All right, let’s go check it out, baby girl. Stella, Jace, thank you again.” He sets Jules down and stands up to hug Stella, whispering something into her ear. She’s beaming when they release each other, and then Mason holds his hand out for me to shake. I grab it, and with a fist bump to Jules, Stella and I make our way back down to my car.
After helping Stella inside, I get in and start the engine, steering us back to her house.
“Sorry, I didn’t exactly mean for you to meet my family all at once,” Stella says, leaning over to kiss my cheek while I turn onto the main road.
“I liked them, Stell. You and Mason seem to get along well.”
“We always have.”
“He’s a good guy. I can’t wait to meet your parents too,” I tell her, and I notice she doesn’t say anything else the rest of the car ride, quiet with her thoughts. Pulling into her driveway, I leave the engine running and get out to walk her to the door.
“You don’t want to come in?” she asks softly, and I smirk.
“Wanting to is not the same thing as if I should. Tonight was perfect, but I know you have an early court date tomorrow, and I’m on shift early as well.”
“You’re right.” Stella looks sad for a moment, and I cup her face in my hands, placing a light kiss to her lips. Pulling away, I notice a slight sheen in her eyes, and my eyebrows furrow.
“What is it?”
“I’m just tired, Jace. I’m fine. Jules can wear you out fast,” she jokes, and I laugh with her.
“I believe that. You sure that’s all?”
“I promise. You’re off Saturday, right?” she asks. I nod, brushing my lips against hers again. “Then I’ll see you Friday night. I’ll bring my pj’s.”
Groaning, I wrap my arms around her waist and yank her to me, deepening the kiss, gently seeking access to her tongue. When she opens for me, I don’t hesitate before scooping her into my arms, those long legs of hers winding around my waist. Leaning her against her front door, I devour her mouth with mine, both of us quickly getting worked up, my dick hard and uncomfortable in my jeans. She threads her fingers through my hair, and her nails scraping my scalp has me pulling away from her, both of us breathing heavy.
With regret, I gently set her on her feet, grimacing when I try to adjust myself in my pants to get more comfortable.
“Do me a favor, Jace, and call me when you get home.”
“Why?” I ask, running my thumb over her kiss-swollen lips.
“’Cause I want your voice to be the last thing I hear before I fall asleep.”
Her quiet admission brings a smile to my face, and I lean down to kiss her one more time, needing just another taste to get me through till our next date.
“Lock the door behind you, baby,” I tell her, and with a kiss to her cheek, I jog down to my car. Getting behind the wheel, I watch her blow me a kiss, and then she’s gone behind the door.
With that fucking smile still on my face, I drive home. When I pull into my garage, I hear my phone beep with a message. Killing the engine, I pull it from my pocket and find that Stella sent me the photo we took earlier: a selfie with Jules pressed between us, her smile sticky with that pink ice cream she ate.
Almost thirty-five years old and I’ve finally had the best date of my life.